Centre may partially lift AFSPA to dispel JNU shadow on J&K govt talks

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Feb 18: Jammu and Kashmir may have inched closer to government formation after BJP secretary Ram Madhav met Peoples Democratic Party president Mehbooba Mufti amid reports that the Centre may lift the controversial Armed Forced Special Powers Act in two districts.

Talks between the ideologically-divergent partners have been deadlocked for over a month after chief minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s death on January 7.

The Centre may agree to lift Afspa – that gives legal immunity to army personnel – from Srinagar and Kathua districts where militancy declined in the past decade, reports said. This could not independently confirm that the two parties has agreed on withdrawing AFSPA.

This was a key demand of the PDP, which is against the controversial law that many activists blame for rampant military violence and rapes in the Valley.

The offer to lift Afspa on a trial basis came as some PDP leaders suggested the raging row over sedition charges on Jawaharlal Nehru University students for allegedly commemorating 2001 Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru was affecting alliance talks.

“It’s a national level issue and not about Kashmir at all. It’s a debate about the idea of India,’’ PDP spokesperson Naeem Akhtar told HT. This is the first time a PDP leader was speaking about the JNU controversy.

The PDP maintains Guru’s execution was `travesty of justice’’. Even after being sworn in to power in alliance with BJP in March 2015, five BJP legislators issued a signed statement to media stating that “PDP stands by the demand for return of his (Guru’s) mortal remains”.

Many BJP leaders, including home minister Rajnath Singh and human resource development minister Smriti Irani, have criticised the JNU students and said “anti-national” slogans won’t be tolerated, inviting criticism from the Opposition for allying with the PDP that has similar views on Guru.

The special one-on-one meeting between Madhav and Mehbooba came unexpectedly. Madhav reached Srinagar on short notice and drove straight to Mehbooba’s fairview residence in Srinagar.

Replying to a question on whether the arrest of former Delhi University professor SAR Geelani could affect government formation, Akhtar said the PDP’s cards were in the public domain. “Our cards are open. We want implementation of agenda of alliance,’’ he added.

He refused to comment on whether the party’s stated position on Afzal Guru had changed. “Our stands on everything remain the same.”

But PDP parliamentarian Nazir Ahmad Laway said the JNU incident was “unfortunate and poses a security risk for Kashmiri students’’. He said the PDP would not tolerate arrest and harrasment of Kashmiri students using the JNU incident as an alibi.

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